Archive for January, 2015

Learning the Meaning of Life

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sam 3: 3b-10, 19; 1 Cor 6: 13c-15a, 17-20; John 1: 35-42

Deacon Larry Brockman


So, what is the purpose of life?  The first thing we have to do to understand the meaning and purpose of our lives is to recognize that God is trying to communicate with us about just that all the time.

In the first reading, we see young Samuel learning this lesson.  Samuel is dreaming about someone calling to him- but he doesn’t recognize who or what it is.  Not once, not twice, but three times he has the same dream; and only with the help of Eli does Samuel recognize it for what it truly is-  God calling him and asking him to listen to him in a dream.

Now let’s hold on to that thought for a moment and talk about it because you are probably thinking “Is God talking to me in my dreams”?  Maybe, and maybe not. But you see, that isn’t the point.  The point is that whether it is- a dream; a funny feeling or fleeting impression when we are awake; something we read; something we see; or something we experience- whatever it might be- God is trying to talk to us all the time.  We just need to be open to it; we need to listen to him.

Some time ago my wife and I watched the film “About Schmidt”.  The main character in the film, Warren Schmidt, was ably played  by Jack Nicholson;  Warren saw a TV add called “Child Reach”, calling for folks to sponsor a poor child in the third World for $22 a month.  Moved by compassion, Warren sponsors a child named Ndugu.  Now Warren is a man who holds it all in- and doesn’t have anyone to share his anger or frustration with.  He retires after having devoted his life to his job at the expense of spending time with his family.  Then he discovers he wasn’t appreciated by his company; he loses his wife; and he finds himself frustrated by his daughter’s choice of a mate.

And so, throughout the film, we hear Warren venting his anger in letters to his foster-child Ndugu.  At the end of the film, Warren is feeling very, very discouraged and despondent over all his misfortunes.  He doesn’t see the value in his life.  And then, all of a sudden, he gets a letter from Ndugu’s teacher who talks about how much Warren’s sponsorship has meant, and how much Ndugu loves him.  Ndugu has also sent a crayon drawing.  It shows a smiling Ndugu linked hand in hand with Warren, and a great big bright sun shining in the background.  And Warren cries, because he can see that he has made a difference after all.

It is just a story, yes; but the point is clear.  God nudges, cajoles, and whispers to us all the time.  And some of the time, we are not even conscious that we have responded.  But the little voice inside has made its mark, and we do things responding to our call by God.  These things are part of God’s plan, and they can make a big difference.  We just never know when we will get such a call  It could happen when you are on a cruise, for example, right there on the open sea, in the midst of 3,000 people, most of whom have put God on the sidelines for the duration;  and yes, it can even happen when you analyze one of your dreams.  But the point is that it is happening all the time.  God is calling you to do his thing for you.

Second, the message and mission God has for you is personal, much more personal than you might think.  Samuel’s message was certainly in that category; and so was the message to the Apostles in the Gospel.

When we read how God called people in the Bible, or when we hear stories about great saints who have responded to God’s call like St. Paul or Mother Theresa or Saint Francis, it was personal; it was directed to them and was specific to them.   Our calls are personal as well.  And likely they are right there unfolding for us- right in front of us. like helping a stranger when you’re on a ship.

And the fact that God is calling us to something right in front of us is both a relief and a challenge.  It is a relief because more often than not, we are not being asked to make a drastic change in our lives.  Rather, we are just being asked to be a little more sensitive; a little more giving in our own situations.  But it is a challenge, because it means making a sacrifice, the kind of sacrifice that involves putting our personal goals on the back burner.

Our gospel today demonstrates this so well.  These men that became Apostles were called quietly one by one.  And they left to follow Jesus.  It all started out slowly, but ended up changing their lives forever.

As you begin your new year, now is the perfect time for you to listen carefully for God’s voice in your lives.  If you can stop the train you are on, and find the time to reflect reflect- that would be great.  Maybe the days you spend on vacation, like a cruise, are a way to help you find the time.  So, listen for it; be ready for it.  Put aside the many forms of self-absorption when the call comes.  Make a sacrifice; say “Speak your servant is listening”.  And God will say to you: “Come and see”.

Looking For a Messiah?

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Thursday After Epiphany

John 4: 19 – 5: 4; Luke 4: 14-22

Dc. Larry Brockman


We keep looking at things the wrong way, and we take things too literally, as we journey through life looking for meaning.   

Take the quote from Isaiah that Jesus read for example.  Isaiah talks about freeing captives, good news for the poor, sight for the blind, and relief for the oppressed.  And when we hear that, we think of all those things literally.  That’s what the Jews of Jesus time were looking for as well- a literal rendering of all those things.  They were yearning for the “Christ” to come  to end the harsh, oppressive Roman rule; and restore Israel to greatness and prosperity.   

Now Jesus, fired up by the Holy Spirit after his Baptism, spent 40 days in the desert fending off temptations by the devil and sorting out what God’s mission was for him.  And so he emerges from the desert, all fired up with zeal for God.  He was the Messiah, and it was God’s will for Him to spread the good news of eternal life to everyone.  And who better to share that exuberance with than his own people- the people he grew up with.   

So, he returns to Galilee; and goes to Sabbath service in the temple.  Jesus boldly chooses the Isaiah scripture and reads it to tell the people through the prophecy that predicted him, who he really was.  But they didn’t get it, not at all.   So, he comes right out and tells them that He is the long awaited Christ;  He is the one who will free the captives, give sight to the blind, spread good news to the poor, and relieve the oppressed.    At first they were in awe; but then the reality sunk in.  And it didn’t take long for his own people to turn on him.  In the next few verses after today’s Gospel, the town people drive him away, angered at the preposterous notion that this simple carpenter’s son, poorly educated and without means, would dare to describe himself as the one and only Messiah.   

And it was kind of a wake-up call for Jesus as well.  His People were looking for the wrong things from the Messiah as they journeyed through life looking for meaning.  They didn’t want to be poor, sick, or burdened in this life; and they didn’t want their eyes opened up to the truth.     

Is it any different today?  I visit one of the local hospitals twice a week to help the chaplain.  I saw an elderly man in his mid-80’s recently who was suffering from serous heart disease.  He knew he didn’t have long to live.  He was resigned to that, but was concerned about his daughter, who he believed really needed his help.  She was financially strapped and abandoned by her husband.  He wanted to get out of the hospital as soon as possible so he could help her.   He didn’t want any open heart surgery that would slow him down or affect his ability to help her even if it meant shortening his life.  He was frustrated by the reality of the life he was in.  He wanted relief for the poor, healing for the sick, freedom from captivity; and that wasn’t likely to happen. 

I was moved at the situation he was in.  Many of us will find ourselves in these kinds of situations in real life.  But the reality is that the Messiah did not come to save us from the pain and suffering of this world.  Rather, He came to set us free from captivity to it in the next world; to open our eyes for God’s will for us now, so we can share in the Kingdom of God, where there will be no more poor or captives.  But most folks are looking for relief in this world- after all, it is the human thing to do.   

You know, even if somehow by magic this man could be cured of his heart ailment right away so he could help his daughter, that wouldn’t solve the problem.  Because such a miracle would last for another few years before the next reality would hit.  The solution Jesus promises, on the other hand, lasts forever.  That’s what Jesus was all fired up about and wanted to share.   

In the first reading, John talks about loving God, trusting God, and keeping His commandments.  That is what we all need to do to follow the Messiah in this life.  If we do that, all of the saving predictions from Isaiah will come true for us.